Fighting the culture of death: For local attorney, it’s personal

| November 3, 2014 | 0 Comments
Elizabeth Bakewicz

Elizabeth Bakewicz

Elizabeth Bakewicz, a graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in St. Paul, has found herself in a position of arguing for something she wasn’t prepared to argue for — her right to live.

In 2008, Bakewicz was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, which is much like that of Brittany Maynard’s, whose story spread over social media and the cover of People magazine. Maynard ended her life by a physician-prescribed pill on Nov. 1 after publicly announcing her plans and support of euthanasia while Bakewicz has chosen to embrace life and suffering.

Bakewicz and her husband, Jonathan, also a St. Thomas law school graduate, live in Lakeville with their daughter, Lucia. Last year, they lost twins through miscarriage.

The loss of their children and Bakewicz’s road to her own mortality have given her a unique perspective on the beginning and end of life. Her training as an attorney also gives her insight into how we can change the culture and medical community by looking at life issues through a different lens.

At an event Nov. 11 sponsored by the Pro-Life Center at the University of St. Thomas, Bakewicz will share her thoughts on how the culture of death has led people away from seeing the value in suffering and the value of her life.

“The medical community needs to start seeing people not as their disease or separate from their disease, but a person ‘with’ their disease,” Bakewicz said. “The same holds true for a woman and her pregnancy — it isn’t a woman and her fetus. It is a woman who is with child. What we need is a ‘soulistic’ approach to medicine and care.”

Soulistic care, a term coined by her father, recognizes the soul of the person and doesn’t fail to see the meaning in a person’s life and suffering.

Suffering

“I have encountered suffering during the past six years [that] I never expected to occur, much less before the age of 35,” Bakewicz states in her paper, “Arguing for Myself: Moving from Abstract to Personal.” She has endured chemotherapy, a miscarriage, surgeries, and now lives with constant fatigue, seizures and painful headaches. The law regarding euthanasia in the Netherlands, for instance, requires only that a person be suffering hopelessly and unbearably to be prescribed a lethal dose to end his or her life.

“That could describe me now,” Bakewicz said. “These people [medical professionals for assisted suicide] fail to see the patient suffering through the diagnosis, and therefore find no alternative to death. Conversely, I see life in my suffering, and a soulistic approach to care would do the same.”

Faith

Bakewicz looks to many faith models when it comes to her belief in how people with a terminal illness should be treated — medically and spiritually. She reads Scripture daily, and although not Catholic, she is greatly influenced by the faith. A meaningful phrase for her comes from the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” which articulates, “The human person must always be understood in his unrepeatable and inviolable uniqueness.”

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Ore., recently issued a statement regarding the Oregon law allowing euthanasia.

“[Assisted suicide] suggests that there is freedom in being able to choose death, but it fails to recognize the contradiction,” the archbishop said. “Killing oneself eliminates the freedom enjoyed in earthly life. True autonomy and true freedom come only when we accept death as a force beyond our control.”

Bakewicz agrees.

“As I look toward that day when death will be hard for me to deny,  I do not wish to hear the words from my doctors that euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is best for ‘all involved’,” she said. “Who am I to choose the time of my death when the Lord Almighty is the author? I prefer to let God be God and wear his sovereign robes like doctor’s scrubs.”

Public policy

Bakewicz is concerned about Maynard’s decision and subsequent media attention.

“I wonder after her being so public about her decision if she then felt pressured to follow through,” said Bakewicz, who cried when she read the story about Maynard. “I would have told her to try a new study and other treatment. I think I would want to shake my finger at her and tell her that there are other ways to approach this. That is sort of my personality. But then the other side of me would have wanted to just hold her. We have to be about love.”

Maynard’s death has been used to gain backing for changes in laws that support assisted suicide through lobbying efforts from Compassion and Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society.

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said there is “extreme concern” that assisted suicide will become a state legislative issue in 2015.

“The best way to counter the strong cultural and political push to advance the culture of death under the false guise of patient autonomy is to tell stories witnessing to the beauty of life at all stages, even in difficult circumstances where sometimes great suffering is present,” he said.


 

Elizabeth Bakewicz, who in 2008 was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, will speak against euthanasia at an event Nov. 11.

‘Arguing for Myself in the Process of Dying’

7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 11, University of St. Thomas Owens Science Hall, 2115 Summit Ave., St. Paul

For more information, contact Bethany Fletcher at (651) 962-4830 or moel1755@stthomas.edu.

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